Eight years ago I wrote a blog post about how to handle an unexpected webinar problem with grace and good humor. Near the end, I wrote:
"Give your audience credit. They know that life is not always perfect."
That remains true. But I am seeing an alarming new trend that warps this idea into an excuse for bad practices and laziness. It's usually couched in terms of being "relatable." As in, "Your audiences don't want to watch some slick, polished performance. They are more comfortable seeing you as a relatable person, casually conversing with them."
Now that's true as far as it goes. Authenticity counts for a lot. If you simply read a paragraph of marketing-speak at your webinar audience, they sense the artificiality of it and tune out. If you declaim a speech with no attention to - and involvement with - your webinar audience, they get bored and tune out. They are perfectly comfortable with the occasional imperfectly phrased sentence in a conversation.
But the modern trend goes WAYYYYY beyond that.
I regularly see presenters who have obviously not practiced even a single run-through of their presentation out loud from start to end. They don't know exactly what they want to say and how they want to say it. They express surprise at their own slides as each is displayed. They sit in front of a poorly-framed webcam with poor lighting, a messy room behind them, and unprofessional clothes, grooming, and posture. They have not even attempted to get clean, clear, reliable audio.
"It's okay. I don't want to look too polished and slick. Audiences relate to a more informal look."
No. No. And again no. You have moved beyond the original tenet into a cheap excuse for laziness and a lack of respect for your attendees. Audiences respect, appreciate, and are more receptive towards you and your message when there is some indication that it was valuable enough for you to pay attention to how your audience takes in the content.
They want the reassuring signals that this mattered to YOU first and that you cared enough to think about how it would come across to THEM.
Rehearsal does not breed inauthenticity… It gives you the comfort and confidence you need in order to bring personality and spontaneity into the live delivery without mangling your message.
A clean visual background, enough lighting to see your face, and a collared shirt rather than a hoodie do not turn you into a slick, untrustworthy snake oil huckster. They just indicate that you are treating this online session as something more significant than a casual Facetime message to your sibling.
Stop with the excuses. Get your act together and treat a webinar presentation as something deserving of a bit of extra setup and preparation. Remember that one of the aspects of authenticity is showing that you authentically care enough about the value of your message to make it worth the effort to create something that your audience will want to watch and listen to.